Thursday, December 7, 2017

Winter snow, Summer heat - the perfect adventure at Mt. Rainier

December is typically a difficult month for outdoor adventuring in the Pacific Northwest. Weeks at a
time may pass without an unobstructed glimpse of the sun as it skulks briefly across the southern horizon for those precious few hours every day. Not even the ski slopes appeal, if they are open at all - the best of the snow not swirling in till around Christmas. There was no way I was missing out this week on the first streak of sunny skies I can remember experiencing in the first quarter of the month.

Winter trips are hard, and the first trip is always the hardest - just rounding up the gear is a time consuming task fraught with frustration. Snowshoes are stashed behind boxes, ski poles stuffed in the ceiling, gloves hidden in drawers - odds and ends were still being diligently tracked till late into the night prior to the trip.

The next most difficult component of a winter trip is, of course, the slim duration of daylight. On the face of it, 8 hours seems like plenty. However, our favorite winter destinations lie a minimum of two hours distant. That leaves us with a maximum of 5 hours out of the car if we want to be back before it’s black as pitch!

Snowshoeing along the frozen banks of Edith Creek.

All the planning, packing, and terrible drive-to-activity ratio, seemed a small price to pay the moment we passed underneath the venerable gate of the Longmire entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park.The snow started at the gate, a patchy blanket carpeting the ancient forest floor.

At paradise the sky was a piercing blue void, it’s dark hue contrasting with the blinding glare of the thickly drifted snow. From within the car, the scene looked bone chillingly frigid, but to our surprise the air temperature was so balmy as to put many a summer day on the mountain to shame! Our heavy winter gear was useless, and even our sweaters ended up in our packs!

Tatoosh Range

Rarely have I found Mt. Rainier so quiet - in  summer the tourists bicker and jabber in the most obnoxious manner, competing with the pleasant, yet no less consistent and loud murmurations of the mountain. Waterfalls roar, rock slides clatter, and the wind hisses through the trees. Sometimes the winter can be loud, too, when the wind howls, the weekend crowds arrive, and the ever present jet liners rumble high above. Today though, the people were few, and the mountain was frozen and quiescent, disturbed by only the occasional clatter of a solitary stone. No more than a trickle emanated from once gushing falls, not a single bird stirred the windless air, and even the jets tearing cross the azure sky were conspicuously absent. What a rare and precious treasure silence is!

Edith Creek Falls

The wind had obviously not been so silent before our arrival - great swirls, crazed patterns, and jagged ridges had been hewed by howling torrents of air. We were loathe to cross these masterpieces created by nature’s finest sculptors, yet we knew they would soon be back at work after we departed, and would not mind their work so defaced.

Frozen Falls
Snowshoeing is hard work, and lounging on exposed, sun-heated rocks on high, snow covered ridges, with warm air, and plenty of snacks was just icing on the cake. Our hunger was voracious, as what would otherwise have been an inconsequential distance during the snow-free months felt at least three times longer when traversed by snowshoe. My eyes are always bigger than my muscles when it comes to snowshoeing. It never seems to stick with me how hard snowshoeing actually is! The silver lining to this rapid consumption of energy is that even the short adventures allowed by dwindling winter daylight feels like a full summer day of trekking!

A final exploratory jaunt along a deeply recessed creek, it’s glittering waters flashing where it emerged from the ice and snow, led us back to where we had begun. With just a few brief stops at Narada Falls (in all it’s icicle-laden glory) and one of my favorite mountain viewpoints for a bit of sunset glow on the glaciers, it was time to leave. We returned to the fog and darkness of the lowlands, yet even in this cold and muddy country the beacon of Rainier shines bright in my memory, drawing me back for another adventure.

Narada Falls


This post was written in one hour for the #NatureWritingChallenge